ultramarinus – beyond the sea




In February 2017, an Reuter’s article covered the story of displaced Syrians staying at Aleppo’s Jibreen shelter.  Coming from “beehive” villages in the countryside, these villagers fled their home when their villages were sandwiched between the forces of Assad’s government and the ISIS.  Having a hard time leaving their homes behind and staying in warehouses at an industrial neighbourhood of Aleppo, many displaced villagers have already longing for a return to their beehive houses, the   traditional vernacular dwellings famous for the natural thermal qualities, and to their former rural life.  Many of the beehive villages were damaged in the war.  Effort would be needed for returnees to restore these unique structures and reestablish their lives centred at sheep and goats.  In 2006, we got a chance to visit one of the beehive village on our way to Palmyra.

Our second stop in the Syrian Desert was Twalid Dabaghein, where we visited a family staying in one of the beehive houses.  The conical beehive houses are made with mud bricks being laid in a spiral configuration.  The mass of the masonry and the high volume of the dome works well to keep out the desert heat.  Traditional beehive house has no window openings, except the entrance door and ceiling oculus.  At the house, our host and we sat in a circle for a brief chat (with our guide as translator).  Chickens and sheep wandered in front of the house.  Our host showed us his guest-book and offered us mint tea.  As we passed around the sugar and tea pot, I noticed the decorations on the white wash walls, including a poster of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and a few textile works.  At the very top of the spiral brickwork hung a cooling fan.  As I finished putting my comment in the guestbook, the host’s neighbour and his young daughter joined us in the house to chat with us.  I took out my sketchbook and let the old man and his daughter to write something down.  I showed them a photo of Hong Kong and they showed great interest and appreciation.  We had some pleasant moments in the beehive house, which was actually quite cool despite the late morning sun outside.

beehive houses 1The conical beehive houses have been around since the 6th century BC.

06ME28-02In the Syrian Desert, clusters of beehive houses make up many beehive villages.  Villagers lead a peaceful life with their domesticated animals.

06ME28-01The beehive houses are famous for their “warm in winter and cool in summer” thermal quality.  The thick mud walls serve well as insulation to keep out the sun.

beehive houses 2Bricks are laid in circular orientation, with mud and straw applied on the interior and exterior.  Rain, if any, would shed off the house easily with the conical form, reducing the chance of erosion.

beehive houses 5With their domesticated Awassi sheep, many villagers engage in the wool business.

beehive houses 6The Awassi sheep is the most common type of sheep in the Arab countries.

beehive houses 7They have adapted well to the desert climate and environment.

06ME27-32Chicken and turkey roam free around the beehive village.

06ME27-34At our host’s home, we could appreciate the circular layout of the bricks.

06ME27-35Some beehive houses would have an oculus at the very top for daylight.  Our host preferred to have his blocked.

06ME27-37Traditional decorations were hung on the interior walls.  Maybe it was a “model home” to greet tourists, but the setting was actually quite simple.

06ME27-36The textile decorations stood out perfectly from the white background.

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